Thomas Merton

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March 21, 1950
Feast of Saint Benedict

Contemplative prayer is the recognition that we are the Sons of God, an experience of Who He is, and of His love for us, flowing from the operation of that love in us. Contemplative prayer is the voice of the Spirit crying out in us, “Abba, Pater.” In all valid prayer it is the Holy Ghost who prays in us: but in the graces of contemplation He makes us realize at least obscurely that it is He who is praying in us with a love too deep and too secret for us to comprehend. And we exult in the union of our voice with His voice, and our soul springs up to the Father, through the Son, having become one flame with the Flame of their Spirit. The Holy Ghost is the soul of the Church and it is to His presence in us that is attributed the sanctity of each one of the elect. He prays in us now as the Soul of the Church and now as the life of our own soul — but the distinction is only real in the external order of things. Interiorly, whether our prayer be private or public it is the same Spirit praying in us: He is really touching different strings of the same instrument.

Down there in the wooded hollow full of cedars I hear a great outcry of bluejays, and yonder is one of the snipes that are always flying and ducking around Saint Joseph’s hill. In all this I am reassured by the sweet constant melody of my red cardinals, who sing their less worldly tunes with no regard for any other sound on earth. And now the jays have stopped. Their tribulation rarely lasts very long.

A third plague of ‘flu has hit the community. This time it is a bad one. The choir is half empty. There were so few in their stalls on the Abbot’s side this night, at Vigils, that the psalms of the second nocturn were being given out by scholastics in simple vows. There are too many ill for the infirmary. They lie and cough in the dormitories. Food is brought to them. They cannot touch it, for the most part. And Father Abbot this morning was forced to life the fast. There was mixt this morning after Chapter.

Then the sanctuary is all torn up, ready to be rebuilt, according to the Ritual, with the gradus altaris in the proper place — we hope! The carpenters began work yesterday. I find by the grace of God that carpenters no longer disturb me when I pray in church. But now I am under the sky, away from all the noise. The birds are all silent now except for some quiet bluebirds. The frogs have begun singing their pleasure in all the waters and in the warm green places where the sunshine is wonderful. Praise Christ, all you living creatures. For Him you and I were created. With every breath we love Him. My psalms fulfill your dim, unconscious song, O brothers in this wood.

I am sitting on a pile of lumber by the ruins of the old horse-barn. There is a beautiful blue haze in the sky beyond the enclosure wall, eastward and over the brow of the hill. There is going to be a new garden there, and I see the furrows Frater Nehemias has been plowing with the John Deere tractor. I guess I will stop and read Origen.

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Thomas Merton

The Sign of Jonas

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